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Vascular Dementia- How Is It Different From Alzheimer's?

December 11, 2016

 

Q- My Mom was diagnosed with vascular dementia. How is this different than Alzheimer's disease? Some of the symptoms seem the same.

 

This is a common question we hear often. First let's talk about "what is dementia?". According to the Alzheimer's Association, "Dementia is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is caused by physical changes in the brain.

 

Most people are familiar with Alzheimer's  Disease since it is the most common form of dementia. only about 10 % of dementia cases site vascular as the sole cause.

 

Memory Loss

 

With Alzheimer's Disease most people think of memory loss as that is often the first and most pronounced symptom.

 

Decision Making and Organization

 

Vascular dementia, on the other hand, can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. In the early stages someone with vascular dementia may have trouble making decisions. Planning and organizing may also be difficult. For someone who was a very organized person in their younger years this symptom will really stand out. However for someone who was not so organized this may not be noticed.

 

Causes

 

Vascular dementia results form strokes, including  "mini strokes" or TIA's. It can also be the result of blockage in the brain. Brain imaging can often detect blood vessel problems. The number and location of these problems can determine the severity of the disease symptoms.

 

Symptoms

 

The symptoms can vary widely depending on how severe the blood vessel was damaged. The symptoms may be most pronounced and obvious right after a major stroke. You may notice the following.

 

  • Confusion

  • Disorientation

  • Trouble speaking or understanding speech

  • Vision Loss

Often, someone will have many smaller strokes that may go unnoticed. Each one of these incidents can cause damage to the brain. Over time it can cause a big problem with vascular dementia.

 

Making Decisions Becomes Difficult

 

This is what happened with Patty Jo. Most likely she had a series of small strokes. This caused  her thinking skills to be impaired. She went back and forth trying to decide whether to move or stay in her own home.

 

Her children tried desperately to get her to move and just when they though she had decided to do so, she would change her mind. She also became quite disorganized. It was not uncommon to see papers strewn all over her kitchen as she tried to sort and pay bills.

 

When Vascular Dementia Doesn't Act Alone

 

Vascular Dementia is often just part of the problem. It is not uncommon for someone to have both vascular dementia and other types like Alzheimer's as well.  

 

If you suspect dementia may be a problem for someone you love reach out for help. Join a caregiver support group. This is a great place to share both concerns and solutions with others who may be experiencing some of the same challenges you are.  A support group can help you find doctors and other health care professionals

 

 

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